I was not particularly interested in learning about Ayurveda when I began to read Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind. Don’t get me wrong, I am interested in healthy eating and finding natural ways to deal with stress, so I was definitely intrigued by the title’s implication that the foods we eat can impact us mentally and emotionally, I just wasn’t sure if I could take another food philosophy.
It’s not that I don’t understand that there is a link between diet and the body’s state of physical or emotional wellness, because I do. I take several supplements and herbs to improve my body’s response to stress. So, I get it. I think it’s more a general nutritional-based fatigue – let me explain.
I already understand the importance of only consuming or organic or all natural products. I began using natural and organic products occasionally ten years ago when my second child was born allergic to everything. Our family made this change completely six years ago. We became mostly dairy-free because that same child could not drink milk without getting eczema, and that caused me to question the purpose of cow’s milk in the adult life. There are reasons – scientific and otherwise – why we don’t need cow’s milk by the way. Except for the eight tablespoons of organic half-and-half (not Kapha) I add to my coffee daily, we use coconut milk for foods like oatmeal, cereal and baking.
We began eating mostly gluten-free after I went on a rampage of biscuit making (don’t laugh) and realized that as an adult, gluten gave me skin breakout like a teenager and caused bloating (TMI, I know) in my stomach. I experimented with gluten-free flours and products and decided to keep it going; that and further research that proved gluten can exacerbate behavioral issues beyond autism and ADHD in children.
I’ve also experimented with Atkins (left me hating meat), Paleo (still too meat-centric) and veganism (got tired of vegetables). Sigh.
So yes, I have lots to consider when creating the weekly family menu. And I have to say, it can be downright exhausting at times. Don’t get me started on the fact that I have a seven-year-old that refuses to eat fruits or vegetables (WTH?) and a ten year that only wants meat in the form of a corn dog (no) or a hamburger from Wendy’s (also no).
So, when I say that I broached the subject of Ayurveda with some trepidation, it’s only because I couldn’t imagine adding another consideration to my family’s diet. So, what happened when I read Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind?
First of all, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the concept of Ayurveda was not all together new to me. The philosophy reminded me of the medieval medical practice of the four humors but without the leeches. It also reminded me of my father telling me and my siblings to never eat melon with other foods because it created digestive challenges (food combining). We grew up with our father imparting this type of (we thought random) knowledge but never knew the basis. Now I know.
It also reminded that I had purchased both Turmeric supplements and golden milk months ago after reading how important the herb was for the body, turmeric being a spice integral to the Ayurvedic diet. And I used Ashwaganda almost daily. So, after reviewing my refrigerator and pantry, I discovered that I had many of the foods and spices needed to eat properly for my dosha.
In Ayurveda, it is understood that every person is made of five basic elements found in the universe: space, air, fire, water, and earth. These combine in the human body to form three life forces or energies, called doshas. They control how your body works. They are Vata dosha (space and air), Pitta dosha (fire and water), and Kapha dosha (water and earth).
Everyone inherits a unique mix of the three doshas. But one is usually stronger than the others. Each one controls a different body function. It’s believed that your chances of getting sick and the health issues you develop are linked to the balance of your doshas.
Various Dosha proportions determine one’s physiological and personality traits, as well as general likes and dislikes. For example, Vata types will prefer hot weather to cold and Kapha types are more likely to crave spicy foods than other types.
Vata Predominant Types: Creative; Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget, Slender; Tall and a fast-walker; Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates; Excitable, lively, fun personality; Changeable moods; Irregular daily routine; High energy in short bursts; Tendency to tire easily and to overexert; Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance.
Responds to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance; Tendency to act on impulse; Often have racing, disjointed thoughts; Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don’t perspire much.
The dietary recommendations for Vata individuals are to avoid dry and or crunchy foods, carbonated beverages, and cold and or raw vegetables. Their ideal diet consists of warm, cooked, soupy foods; cooked cereals; nuts; cooked vegetables; and hot milk. Also, ghee, which is clarified butter, is particularly good for Vata individuals.
Pitta Predominant Types: Medium physique, strong, well-built; Sharp mind, good concentration powers; Orderly, focused; Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; Aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance; Competitive, enjoy challenges; Passionate and romantic; Strong digestion, strong appetite, get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal.
When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry; Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily; Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, heat makes them very tired; Perspire a lot; Good public speakers; Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian; Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger; Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes.
In terms of their diet, Pitta people should avoid hot spices, alcohol, coffee, vinegar, and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes. Of course, these are typically their favorite foods! They should eat sweet juicy fruits such as mangos and melons. They should also include lots of cooling vegetables with high water content, such as cucumbers, kale and lettuce, in their diet.
Kapha Predominant Types: Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced; Affectionate and loving; Forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature; Stable and reliable; faithful; Physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build; Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring; Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process; Slower to learn, but outstanding long-term memory; Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large “soft” eyes and a low, soft voice; Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion.
Prone to depression; More self-sufficient; Gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life; Excellent health, good immune system; Very calm; strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings; Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others; Tend to be possessive and hold on to things. Don’t like cold, damp weather; Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
From a diet standpoint, Kapha people should reduce oil and fats, sweets and salt as much as possible due to their sluggish digestion. Instead, they should focus on cooking with lots of spices, eating large amount of vegetables, and high fiber foods such as legumes.
You have to determine your dosha to get started. I completed several calculators just tomake sure my results were based on a consensus. So, I’m kapha predominant. Or rather, my dosha’s are out of balance and I have too much Kapha, so I need to eat foods that pacify or reduce that element in my body.
Interestingly enough, my diet was pretty close to what was recommended for me. I only had to tweak some of the gluten-free grains I consumed, and remove some of the sweetest fruits like grapes. The biggest surprise for me was that coconut oil (which I use in cooking and beauty) was not the best oil for me. Sunflower is a better choice.
I love vegetables roasted in oil and a bit of sea salt, so I was chagrined to discover that I needed to use oil sparingly and switch from sea salt to rock salt. But by and by, considering Ayurvedic guidelines streamlined my nutritional choices in a way that was beneficial to me and made grocery shopping easier. Of course, having to consider doshas for more than one person when buying groceries requires research and planning!
After two weeks (and counting) of eating for my dosha, I did feel immediately better and I also lost two to three pounds. But that could also be because I have less choices to eat. I find myself frequently Googling Is (insert food) Kapha? (By the way, it’s almost impossible to eat for your dosha at fast food places, however Wendy’s Power Mediterranean salad comes plenty close – for Kapha’s at least.)
I’m a business owner and mother to three boys, so I find that I juggle work and family often, and it causes stress. Did I mention that finding ways to resolve stress naturally, is kind of a thing with me? Changing my diet even subtly helped on that account. Placebo effect? Or because of my food choices? I’m going to go with Ayurveda works. It’s been around for 3,000 years. Health care that has been crowdsourced over generations tends to be effective.
Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind is a nice read for anyone looking for an introduction to Ayurveda, or a new, all natural tool in the search for a stress-free life. It will undoubtedly cause you to want to learn more. In which case, the book has done its job. O’Donnell has written an easy to understand guide to Ayurveda… complete with recipes you’ll seriously consider trying.
For a book that I didn’t think I’d love, it’s been quite influential. Once you read it, you can’t unlearn the fact that your food has more power over your mind and body than you could have imagined.